Christina Applegate: Family History of Cancer and Risky Genes

Certain kinds of cancer runs in families and Ms. Applegate’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38 and then ovarian cancer at age 54. A gene underlying these cancers (BRCA1, pronounced “brakka one”) was first isolated in the mid-1990s and a genetic test for this mutant gene has been available for a number of years. This test had to be ordered by a physician. In just the past few years, however, advances in technology have led to the emergence of relatively inexpensive, direct-to-consumer genetic tests that can simultaneously screen for a variety of diseases. These developments have been very controversial for a number of reasons and we strongly recommend that you consult with your doctor if you are considering having yourself tested.

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The search for the gene responsible for breast cancer is a fascinating detective story as told by author Kevin Davies in his book Breakthrough.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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